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Spotlight: South Carolina’s Automotive Industry

BMW. Michelin. Nissan. CU-ICAR. The relationship between the automotive industry and South Carolina—particularly the Upstate—continues to grow. Learn more about the strength of this industry in South Carolina and what it means to the state’s economy.

BMW Spartanburg Plant, Credit: bmwblog.com

BMW Spartanburg Plant, Credit: bmwblog.com

More and more businesses serving the automotive industry are relocating to the state—no double thanks to South Carolina having one of the strongest business incentive packages of all U.S. states. One of the latest additions was announced in March of last year, with Mercedes-Benz’s plans to move production of its Sprinter commercial van to North Charleston.

Automotive-related companies are located in 40 of South Carolina’s 46 counties and make everything from seats, radiators, windshields, hydraulics, tires, plastics, cables, fuel tanks, fuel systems, brakes, transmissions, glass, aluminum, steel, carpet, windshield wipers and dozens of other components.1
South Carolina was ranked third in the nation in in Business Facilities magazine’s 2012 Rankings Report for automotive manufacturing strength.2 The state has also been the No. 1 exporter of tires for several years now, in large part due to the Port of Charleston.1

South Carolina has attracted automotive innovators since the early 1900s, when Milliken & Company in Spartanburg manufactured special fabric for the seats and roofs of Henry Ford’s automobiles.3 Yet, what really fueled the growth was when BMW Manufacturing Co. decided to locate to Upstate South Carolina in 1992. Since then, the plant in Spartanburg has contributed an estimated $4.6 billion to South Carolina’s economy. BMW is responsible for 23,000 jobs in the state and generates $1.2 billion in annual wages and salaries.4

CU-ICAR Campus, Credit: cuicar.com

CU-ICAR Campus, Credit: cuicar.com

The relationship between South Carolina and the automotive industry continued to grow when the state, BMW, and Clemson University decided to establish an automotive and motorsport research center in Greenville. The Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) was founded in 2007 and is home to the Clemson University Graduate Engineering Center, which offers advanced degrees in automotive engineering and motorsport technology.4

Today, according to the S.C. Department of Commerce (as cited in a March 2015 news article), there are over 400 companies in South Carolina that produce automotive parts; that’s up from 305 in 2008. In 2008 (the last year for which figures are available), the auto industry pumped $27.1 billion into South Carolina’s economy.1


1 The State, “Auto industry expansion across South Carolina causing economic tidal wave,” http://www.thestate.com/news/business/article13758719.html

2Business Facilities, “2012 Business Facilities Rankings Report,” http://businessfacilities.com/2012/08/2012-business-facilities-rankings-report/


4 Greenville Area Development Corporation, http://www.greenvilleeconomicdevelopment.com/automotive.php


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